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Head of Arts – Dr Elena Gordon

In 2021, the College’s Education & Student Life Department adopted a new department structure, which created five new academic positions within the department – the ‘Academic Heads’. These positions are occupied by university lecturers and researchers, and each Academic Head is responsible for leading a team of Senior Academic Tutors and Academic Tutors, some of whom are senior students of St Andrew’s College. In addition to overseeing the delivery of subject tutorials, academic mentoring sessions and academic skills workshops – staples of the College’s Academic Program – they also contribute to the College’s innovative new courses and develop academic policy that will ensure the ongoing improvement of the College’s educational offerings.

We are delighted to introduce the College’s 2022 Academic Heads in this Q&A series.

What is your full title?

Dr Elena Gordon, Anderson Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney.

Please tell us a bit more about yourself!

I am never really sure what to say in response to these sorts of questions! But I’m a philosopher, and I’m interested in early modern philosophy, and my PhD was on the philosophy of David Hume. I think one thing about being an academic that most people don’t know is that, most of the time, your research and your research interests speak to who you are as a person. To that end, my research interests lie in understanding how we form our beliefs about the world, and how socialisation and the social realm determines how we think and express ourselves, and how we learn to articulate ourselves through language. I am also interested in the human, animal and natural world, distinction. So, this involves thinking about questions like: what is it about human beings that makes us different from other things in which we reside? How similar are we to animals? And what is our place in the world we inhabit? These interests come out in my personality and things I like to do: I love the outdoors, and the Australian bush, and I like being with friends and family. I also really like to travel, which is lucky because travelling is a big part of my job!

What drew you to the position as Head of Arts; what most interests you?

What drew me to St Andrew’s was that it is a College founded on the principles of the Scottish Enlightenment, and since my PhD was on Hume (who is a main figure in this period), I thought that I would be a perfect fit!! What most interests me about the job here is being able to mentor students, with the view to prepare them to think sharply and critically. These are skills that are necessary beyond the lecture theatre.

What are you hoping to achieve as Head of Arts?

I hope to imbue students with meaningful skills that will set them up for doing really well at uni, but also that they can take with them beyond their studies. Clarity of thought and ideas is very important to all philosophers, and, for me, passing that on through education is something that I focus on in my classrooms and skills workshops.

What has been a highlight so far in this role?

Definitely the people I work with – both in terms of staff and students.

Could you tell us about your career path to date? What are some of your recent professional achievements and goals?

I started my PhD in 2016, and got to do a lot of travel for conferences and research which was fun, and included living in New York for a year in 2018. I finished my PhD in 2021 in the middle of a lockdown, which felt like a pretty significant achievement, insofar as I finished something so big in the worst time! It’s really tough to make it in academia, so I am also really grateful that I have been able to obtain two postdocs: one at the University of Sydney, and another starting in the new academic year in Canada.

What do you like to do outside of your work?

I am almost always working! But, I like to run, going for bushwalks, and hanging out with friends and family.

Do you have any advice for young Androvians?

It’s really important to do what you want to do for work, and to try your best to make your dreams materialise in reality. It’s enormously rewarding to make your dreams happen, and you really just have to go for it. It’s a cliché, but if you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like ‘work’, in the sense that the day, week, month, even year, can pass so fast and you wish you had more time to keep thinking and working in the best possible way. Being stuck in a job that you are just doing for the money probably won’t lead to a happy life and will likely leave you checking the clock, and timing the hours between the morning, lunch and getting home, and waiting for your leave to come around, which is no way to live, in my opinion. It’s also important to remember that rarely does someone regret what they do, it’s more likely you’ll regret what you didn’t do. So, if you want something, go for it and give it your all. It might just work out!